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Tara McDonald, mother of slain eight-year-old Victoria Stafford, hugs partner James Goris during a break in court proceedings at the trial for Michael Rafferty, the accused in her daughter's murder.

Warning: This story contains disturbing details.

For three years, a young woman convicted in the murder of Tori Stafford has been publicly reviled as the accomplice of an allegedly homicidal rapist boyfriend.

But on Tuesday, Terri-Lynne McClintic claimed that it was she – not he – who wielded the hammer that killed the eight-year-old girl.

In horrifying detail that left a courtroom numb, Ms. McClintic told a jury that while her former boyfriend, Michael Rafferty, conceived of and directed the crime, she inflicted the fatal blows.

Serving life imprisonment for her role in Tori's murder, Ms. McClintic also offered Mr. Rafferty's trial an explanation of what prompted her to help place the child in a garbage bag and then beat her to death.

The crime scene was a patch of woodland roughly 130 kilometres from where Tori was abducted from outside her Woodstock school earlier that afternoon, in April, 2009.

Ms. McClintic, 21, told the court that when she saw her boyfriend sexually assaulting Tori in the back of his Honda Civic, she experienced "flashbacks."

"I turned back to the vehicle and when I saw what was going on, all I saw was myself at that age … and all the anger and hate and rage that I'd built up toward myself came out of me," she testified.

"I went back to the vehicle and I savagely murdered that little girl."

Mr. Rafferty, 31, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and abduction.

The shock was palpable inside the cavernous courtroom as Mr. Rafferty's former girlfriend delivered her flat but often lucid testimony, struggling to remain composed.

As she sat in the witness box, Ms. McClintic often closed her eyes as she chronicled the events.

Some spectators were in tears. Tori's father, Rodney, seated near the front of the court with relatives, looked badly shaken. And when the afternoon session ended, Tori's mother, Tara McDonald, wept in the corridor.

Ms. McClintic, serving life imprisonment at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in nearby Kitchener, also testified how, after a dysfunctional youth marked by drug abuse and a long series of criminal convictions, chiefly for assault, she had been attracted to the man on trial.

"He always said all the right things; he knew how to make you feel good," Ms. McClintic told Crown attorney Kevin Gowdey.

"Compared to most men who have been a part of my life, it felt pretty good."

Ms. McClintic first described for the court how Tori was kidnapped, and how even though she had been forewarned about what was going to happen, she did nothing to prevent it.

She and Mr. Rafferty were jointly charged in May, 2009, six weeks after Tori vanished on her way home from school, and two months before her decomposed body was discovered wrapped in green garbage bags and concealed beneath rocks, a few minutes' drive southeast of Mount Forest.

She died as a result of "massive injuries" to her skull, the jury has already heard, inflicted by a hammer; she had also sustained broken ribs and a lacerated liver.

Ms. McClintic, who was seated a couple of metres from the nearest juror, began her keenly awaited evidence on Tuesday morning. The huge local interest was marked by the crowds of spectators who began lining up before 6 a.m. for a courtroom seat.

Wearing spectacles, her dark hair cut in a neat bob, Ms. McClintic was dressed in a black-and-white top, beige cardigan, black pants and black high-heeled shoes.

As she testified, Mr. Rafferty, his hair newly shorn in a buzz cut, stared hard at her, occasionally jotting down notes on a yellow legal pad.

The trial heard how in the run-up to the abduction, an hour or so earlier Mr. Rafferty had asked her, "Are you going to do it?"

"Do what?" Ms. McClintic recounted saying.

She said her boyfriend then taunted her, saying, "I knew it. I knew you were all talk and no action."

She knew what he was referring to, she testified, because they had had discussions about abducting a child, and his language helped goad her into participating.

"I never said I would do anything, but someone telling me I can't do something is a trigger for me."

She also recounted Mr. Rafferty saying, as they drove near the Oliver Stephens Public School, which Tori attended: "He told me he wanted a young female because the younger they were, the easier they were to manipulate."

Ms. McClintic spoke of how she struck up a conversation with Tori.

"I started talking to her, I started walking beside her, I asked her why she was walking alone."

They chatted briefly about dogs – both she and Tori had shih tzus – and together they walked up Woodstock's Fyfe Avenue toward where Mr. Rafferty was waiting in his car in a parking lot.

As they approached, "Mike started yelling, 'Hurry up, hurry up. …' So I started to panic," Ms. McClintic said.

"I didn't know what to do, so I pushed [Tori]in. Then I just shut the door and got in."

Tori was placed in the back seat, and then covered up with a pea coat. The trio headed for Highway 401, going east, Mr. Rafferty scanning the radio to see whether word of Tori's abduction had made the news.

Repeatedly, the frightened child asked where she was going.

Ms. McClintic told the trial she constantly tried to reassure her, telling her she would be taken home.

"I kept saying we were just going for a drive, I didn't know where we were going."

As the couple drove away from Woodstock with their captive, Ms. McClintic asked Mr. Rafferty what they were going to do with her.

"We can't just keep her and we can't take her back," she recounted him saying. And he made plain in graphic language that he planned to sexually assault the little girl.

After buying a claw hammer and garbage bags at a Home Depot in Guelph at Mr. Rafferty's direction, she said she put the items in the trunk of his car and they drove out of town for about 30 to 45 minutes. Then, they turned onto a dirt road and pulled over near a large pile of rocks.

When they arrived, Ms. McClintic said, she got out of the car and walked away.

"I knew what was going to happen."

At Mr. Rafferty's direction, she testified, she checked to make sure no one could see them.

She could hear Tori scream as Mr. Rafferty attacked her, she said.

As she described the alleged rape, her onetime boyfriend shook his head.

At one point, Ms. McClintic said, Mr. Rafferty called her back to the car because Tori needed to relieve herself.

Ms. McClintic led the child away from the car, she recounted, while Tori begged her not to bring her back to her assailant.

"I said I was sorry," Ms. McClintic testified. "I told her she was a very strong girl. She said, 'Strong like you?' I said, 'No, you're much stronger.' "

Then, Ms. McClintic said, Tori was taken back to Mr. Rafferty. At first, she agreed to stay with the girl, trying to hold her hand as Mr. Rafferty took her into the back seat.

But Ms. McClintic said she walked away from the car again, and upon returning, Tori was on the ground outside the car.

Ms. McClintic said she retrieved the garbage bags from the trunk and put one over Tori's head.

Then, she said, she hit Tori with both sides of a claw hammer.

Next, the witness testified, Mr. Rafferty wrapped Tori in garbage bags and the pair carried her to a nearby pile of rocks.

They covered her up, then drove away, she testified.

As they left, Ms. McClintic said, Mr. Rafferty asked if she was okay, and she asked him the same question.

"And he said, 'Yeah, I'm all right, too, considering.' "

Mr. Gowdey's examination-in-chief continues on Wednesday morning.